This is undisputed, really — a growing successful company needs direction, plain and simple. Without it, you’ve got a corporation just going wherever the wind blows, and sometimes that wind will blow clear across the ocean, into a monsoon, with crashing waves, and the ship gets way too torn up to see the light of day. It’s not a pretty sight.
To avoid the storm, though, you’ve got one concept here acting like your guiding compass: the “Terms of Service” agreement. Let that lead you. With that kind of document, you can rest assured that you’ll always find your way with your company.
Here’s What You Need for Your Terms of Service Documentation
It doesn’t matter if you’re the simple and traditional brick-and-mortar, or an online establishment of some kind. Without a doubt, these documents are essential, encompassing these specifics:
You need to outline all of these. Know what roles they are, how they need to be, what your expectations are of them and what happens when you need legal protection. Because this is a written and drafted document, you’ve got the power of the legal industry just in case the compass breaks and you start heading into the perfect storm.
It’s not as easy as it looks, though. Think of it as a college thesis paper. You’ve got to be accurate with it, or else no one else in your company or potential business partnerships will understand whatever it is you’re saying. Here are five tips to keep you out of the storm:
Less Is Definitely More
We err along the side of “more is more.” After all, if all the bases aren’t covered, people start asking questions. The problem with this is the fact that we then overwrite, overelaborate, overcompensate and muddy the waters with senseless language.
Your Terms of Service document must be like a legal petition. Straightforward, simplistic, to the point. You don’t, however, need the whole “amicus curiae” or “de novo” legalese stuff, because that won’t apply to you. Leave that to the courts. This is your office. You, however, need to be so simple that any lawyer can understand what you’re saying. There’s no confusion and no need for the judicial system to interpret your laws.
Short Is Definitely Better
More doesn’t have to be big either. Keep it sweet, succinct and swift. You don’t need to drag out the language, explaining everything. By everything, of course, I mean even the self-explanatory. Yes, this can be like a “legal” document, but exercise some common sense and know that everyone probably understands what overtime means.
This includes never elaborating on any hypotheticals, no “potential” business endeavors for the future, and nothing about profit expectations. A good way to try and develop these terms of service is to focus on the now and not the what if or what’s coming. Plus don’t have any of your constituents and customers wonder the what ifs or what’s coming, because then you might get into legal issues that way.
Be Methodical About the Structure
As I said, it’s like a legal document. It’ll have a definitive structure to it. Moreover, you’re not trying for a grade here as in college, so don’t be afraid to summarize each section you’ve written. While it needs to be short and sweet, it should also be “scannable.”
People need to be able to skim read and get the gist easily. If necessary, they’ll go over it several times later for some of the other details within each section, and that’s fine. Your Terms of Service, really, shouldn’t be just a one-time document they need to memorize for a lifetime. Rather, we’re talking about reference material. Allow everyone the ability to always refer back to the document, ensuring the rules and guidelines are followed.
Have Someone Else Read It as Well
This is a common mistake all across the board of the literary realm, from poetry to drama to fiction. You might read it, and it sounds fine; someone else reading it, though, will think it sounds clunky.
Get some beta-readers to look it over and offer some feedback. Some might think it reads fine; others will have problems. Discuss the problems. See how to fit them. If you can get a majority of readers to look at you and say, “hey, I see no problem with this,” then you’re on the right track. More importantly, get your qualified business lawyer to review it.
Ensure the Essentials
It’s about the right kind of balance. You do need to keep it short and clear, but don’t forget to leave these essentials in:
- Ownership Rights
- Litigation Rights
- Non-Payment Consequences
- Termination of Service Rules
- Payment Terms
These aren’t hypotheticals. These aren’t anecdotes. They’re facts of the matter, legalities that must be included. Of course, don’t write a novel for each concept. Definitely, though, make it clear to even a fifth grader.
Did I Mention That It’s About Balance?
You can think of it this way: it’ll make you a guru at writing. After all, literary work is about finding the right balance, finding the right words and letting them speak for themselves. You don’t have to define every “the” or “of,” in other words.
I know it sounds like quite a task, because not many of us really like to write. You might get lucky and have a colleague completely proficient in it, but just in case you don’t, know this: once you get that Terms of Service document out of the way, the rest is all downhill. Let the company run on its own, and watch success head your way like the calm after the storm.